By Amy Farnum
The couple that pole vaults together, stays together. Well, maybe that is not exactly how the phrase goes, but for Kasey and Annie Burlingham, it couldn’t ring truer.
The couple met at Colfax High School in California, where Kasey was a boys’ track and field star, setting virtually every school record in the pole vault. In their junior year, Annie went out to a track meet and watched Kasey vault, and she was immediately impressed.
“It was awesome,” said Annie. “I’d never seen it before. We started dating that summer, so when track season came around during our senior year, he got me to try the pole vault. I jumped like seven feet my first day, so he and the coach got me to come out for track.”
Annie topped out at 8-6 in high school, and after graduation in 2004, she never even considered vaulting in college.
“When I got her started, I knew she was naturally gifted, but she wasn’t really that into it,” said Kasey.
The couple moved on to Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo, a community college in California, and Kasey joined the team. One day, Kasey told his coach Jan Johnson that Annie had vaulted in high school, and soon after she was on the track team again.
“Jan threw a pole in my hand and told me to go try it,” said Annie, who impressed Jan on her first try. “Between the two of them, I started training again.”
The high school sweethearts, who married in 2005, both competed at Cuesta before transferring to Division II’s Cal State Stanislaus. After a redshirt season, they both competed for the Warriors last season, culminating with a national title for Kasey as he cleared 17 feet, 8 ½ inches at the 2009 Division II Outdoor Track and Field Championships in San Angelo, Texas.
Annie, who did not qualify for nationals last year, kept up with Kasey’s results thanks to friends’ text messages and phone calls. She was unable to attend the event, but enjoyed seeing the video and photos of Kasey’s victory.
Her husband’s national title, as well as a visit to the North American Pole Vaulting Association Championships in Clovis, Calif., last August, inspired Annie to renew her commitment to the sport.
“In Clovis, they set up a pole vault runway in the middle of the farmer’s market,” said Annie. “It’s like the rock concert of pole vaulting. It was really fun. Afterwards, we talked with other athletes and coaches about pole vaulting until 4 a.m. One of the coaches talked to me about my potential and what I could do. I wanted to get to the next level.”
With Kasey as a workout partner, Annie hit the weight room, and increased her off-season works. She soaked up as much knowledge as possible, even reviewing video with Kasey at home.
“He’s definitely a student of the sport, and she had seemed like she was doing it just because he was,” said Cal State Stanislaus pole vaulting coach Tom Brenda. “Up until last year, Annie didn’t really have the focus and the drive to really excel. I think what happened was with Kasey’s success at nationals she made more of a commitment to try to make national championships as well.”
“I don’t know what happened, but last summer this switched flipped and now I’m really interested in it,” said Annie. “Before I would just participate in practice like everybody else, and then I would leave. But this year, he and I have kind of the same interest level, so we spend a lot of time training together.”
Annie saw a marked improvement in during the indoor season, qualifying for nationals and finishing sixth with a 12 foot, 2 inch vault to earn All-America honors. And although Kasey did not compete at indoors because CSUS does not sponsor a men’s indoor track and field team, he was there to support Annie in Albuquerque, N.M.
The couple’s collegiate career concludes this weekend and both will be attending the Division II Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Charlotte, N.C., as national qualifiers.
Kasey will look to defend his national title, and enters the meet as the second-ranked pole vaulter in the nation with a season-high mark of 17 feet, 4 ½ inches.
“It’s tough to go in as the defending champion because it’s a target on your back,” said Brenda. “I’m happy that he is ranked No. 2 going into this meet. It takes a little bit of pressure off. The pole vault is so unpredictable. He seems to be peaking at the right time like he did last year.”
Annie will compete at outdoor nationals for the first time, qualifying with the 16th-best mark in the nation of 12-3 ½.
Because Brenda has a family commitment on Friday, Kasey will serve as Annie’s coach at the meet.
“It’s an interesting dynamic,” said Brenda. “We almost coach her together. He is going to have to coach her completely on Friday, because my daughter is graduating from high school that night. I’m taking the red eye at midnight to make it for Kasey’s competition.”
Kasey is looking forward to the opportunity to coach his wife.
“Her mark isn’t as high as the rest, but I saw a lot of those athletes compete and indoors, and Annie is definitely as athletic as they are,” said Kasey. “Anything can happen at nationals.”
The meet will be held at Irwin Belk Complex at Johnson C. Smith University on May 27-29.